I love long holidays! Over the long All Saints/Souls weekend, I was able to read Brent Weeks’ Night Angel trilogy.
The saga is set in the continent of Midcyru, mainly in the two kingdoms of Cenaria, where the Sa’Kagé underworld exerts more power than its king, and of Khalidor, ruled by an unbroken line of “Godkings,” the strongest wielders of the Vir, i.e., the magic that wytches (also called meisters and Vürdmeisters) use, said to be more powerful than the Talent used by mages.
Seven centuries ago, Jorsin Alkestes, Midcyru’s first High King, created with the help of Ezra the Mage objects of great magical power, including the swords Curoch (Sword of Power, which could immensely amplify the power of its wielder) and Iures (Staff of Law, which could undo even the most complicated weaves of magic). Ezra also discovered the black ka’kari, an ancient and sentient metallic object, the soul of whose magic will later be revealed to be love. It enables its wielder to “see” whether a person’s heart/mind is filled with evil, especially murder. It also gives its wielder immortality. It can be shaped into any form (think Green Lantern), and through it its wielder can become invisible and see in the dark, among many other special abilities.
Ezra was also able to create six artificial ka’kari, and gave all seven to Jorsin, who in turn gave the six artificial ones to his Six Champions (e.g., the white ka’kari, whose power was glamour or compulsion, was given to Trace Arvagulania), and the black to Acaelus Thorne, to Ezra’s consternation. The truth however is that the black ka’kari chose Acaelus. Powerful mages, meisters, and kings have been looking for Curoch, Iures, and the six ka’kari through the centuries, but no one knows about the black ka’kari let alone its being the power behind the Night Angel, a powerful being who serves Justice, Vengeance and Mercy.
Note: SPOILERS here!!!
BOOK 1: The Way of Shadows
Eleven-year-old Azoth wants to get out of his guild of orphaned adolescent thieves, and away from its wicked leader-in-waiting, Rat, so Azoth begs Durzo Blint, the Sa’Kagé’s finest wetboy (i.e., Talent-wielding assassin), to apprentice him. Durzo gives him a test first: kill Rat. Azoth couldn’t quite get the moral conviction to carry out the assassination but when Rat rapes Azoth’s best friend Jarl and rapes and then horribly disfigures their eight-year-old best friend Doll Girl, Azoth kills Rat. Thus begins a decade of training under Durzo and under the new identity, Baronet Kylar Stern. In his new life, Kylar befriends Count Rimbold Drake (a former Sa’Kagé leader) and his wife, who, as believers in the one God, show Kylar unconditional love; Momma K., the Sa’Kagé’s Mistress of Prostitution (later to be revealed as the Shinga/chief of the Sa’Kagé), who trains him in politics and social graces; and Duke Gyre’s son, Logan, who would later become king of Cenaria. Kylar also ensures that Doll Girl likewise gets a new life as the scar-faced but otherwise beautiful commoner, Elene Cromwyll. During this period, the black ka’kari leaves Durzo Blint and chooses Kylar as its new master, enabling the latter to tap his inert Talent, which unknown to him was the greatest in this century. During the same period, Rat resurfaces as Roth Ursuul who, together with Vürdmeister Neph Dada, oversees the murder of the Cenarian king and nobles, and the takeover of Cenaria by Khalidor. In the end, Klyar battles Roth and both of them die, but Kylar returns to life and inherits Durzo’s sword, Retribution, which, in reality, is Iures.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Though there is nothing new here (not even the world or the magic system), Brent Weeks is nevertheless able to create a good yarn that kept me reading through the night. It actually reminds me of the Godspeaker Trilogy, which I read during the long All Saints/Souls weekend two years ago, though I prefer the Night Angel trilogy, probably because it is written from a male point of view. In Book 1, I like Kylar’s character development the most, especially the process of his learning to submit to moral virtue, particularly brotherly love, which in his early years he learns from Doll Girl/Elene, whom he would eventually marry. I also like Durzo’s character, who, after seven centuries of wielding the black ka’kari and Iures (yes, Durzo is Acaelus), has grown tired of and cynical about justice and love. He dies at the hand of his apprentice, but because he saved Kylar, whom he loved like a son, he, too, is brought back to life to enjoy it one last time.
Book 2: Shadow’s Edge
Kylar takes Elene and Uly (Durzo and Momma K.’s daughter) out of Cenaria into Caernarvon, where he tries to leave behind the life of an assassin. There he sells his sword, Retribution, and purchases for Elene what no one knows is the most potent pair of magical marriage rings surviving, capable of creating a bond that enables one spouse to feel what the other is feeling (and that gives the partner who fastens the earrings the power of compulsion over the other). Meanwhile, the Khalidoran Godking places a deep and powerful weave of compulsion on the beautiful but deadly Vi Sovari, apprentice of Cenaria’s second best wetboy, and she kills her only friend, Jarl, who also happens to be Kylar’s best friend, when he visits Kylar to tell him that Logan is alive but imprisoned in the Hole. Vi also takes with her Uly and, unwittingly, the marriage rings while Kylar and Elene were out. Vi meets Sister Ariel, who takes Uly to the Chantry (a training place for female mages) and tells Vi to see Sister Drusilla in Cenaria, who could probably remove the Godking’s compulsive weave. Kylar frees Logan, who rallies the Sa’kagé and few remaining nobles to fight against the army of the Godking, while Kylar is forced to work with Vi to kill the Godking himself, believing that Vi’s compulsion is gone. It isn’t gone, however, so Vi betrays and kills Kylar, whom she discovers she loves. To break the Godking’s control over her will and to destroy him, she fastens on her and Kylar’s ears the marriage rings, thereby transferring her obedience from the Godking to Kylar. Kylar awakes, finishes the Godking off, and, devastated by his loss of Elene by his being wedded to Vi, leaves Vi forlorn.
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. Vi’s character is an interesting contrast against Elene’s, whose innocence were both shattered in the slums of Cenaria. While Vi oozes with sexuality, Elene exudes the kind of female goodness that calls men to settle down. While Vi learned to use her body to survive and kill, Elene learned to forgive and love even more.
Book 3: Beyond the Shadows
Vi goes to the Chantry to heal her broken spirit. There she meets Elene who, despite the pain of knowing that Vi wedded Kylar, decides to forgive her. Thus Vi’s healing begins through Elene’s friendship. Kylar goes to the Chantry, too, to see Elene and they marry in private. (In public, it is to Vi that Kylar is married as signified by the rings that are permanently on their ears). But Kylar’s sword is stolen and so he has to leave. Pregnant with Kylar’s son, Elene also leaves the Chantry shortly after. Kylar soon finds the sword with Durzo’s help, and kills the Vürdmeister Neph Dada, but not before the latter enables the Khalidoran goddess, Khali, to enter into Elene, of all people. Khali then unleashes millions of undead krul. Kylar tries to kill Khali but could not because of Khali’s power of compulsion feeding on Kylar’s love for Elene. Vi eventually succeeds in compelling Kylar to kill Khali/Elene through the power of the marriage rings. Khali, who in reality is the spirit of Trace Arvagulania, tries to leave Elene’s body but is trapped by Elene’s love, and so they die together. To destroy the millions of undead krul released by Khali, Kylar, Durzo, and Vi are joined by Dorian (the current century’s most powerful mage-cum-Vürdmeister), who in turn calls on Ezra the Mage himself. Their powers, combined with those of Curoch and Iarus and the black ka’kari, destroy the krul once and for all. In the epilogue, during Elene’s queenly funeral ordered by Logan, the new High King, Vi realizes that Dorian the Mad (who apparently lost his mind after the great battle) had transferred Elene’s baby into the womb of Logan’s wife, Jenine, who now bears two sons – her and Dorian’s, as well as Kylar and Elene’s. Which of the two is the so-called Child of the Prophecy now?
RATING AND COMMENTS: I give this book 3 stars out of 5. I hated that Dorian who, as a mage and a Godking, had the singular ability to wield both Talent and Vir, started out good (he wanted to reform Khalidor) but ended up unable to withstand the corrupting influence of the Vir. The climax/conclusion is rather boring, but in fairness to Brent Weeks, this is true of most epic fantasy climaxes, including (from best to worst:) Jim Butcher’s six-part Codex Alera (my average rating: 4/5), Brandon Sanderson’s Mistborn Trilogy (3.5/5), Karen Miller’s Godspeaker Trilogy (3.3/5), and Suzanne Collins’ Hunger Games Trilogy (2.7/5). Of the modern epic fantasy series that I’ve read, only the concluding volumes of Elizabeth Haydon’s Symphony of Ages (Books 1-3, my average rating: 4.7/5) and David Farland’s Runelords (Books 1-4, my average rating: 4.6/5) were worth five stars. (Someday I hope to write epic fantasy like David Farland, but one with Christian undertones.) Nevetheless the Night Angel was a good read.